October 28, 2010

Illegal Immigration Backlash Worries, Divides Latinos

IV. Views of Immigration Policy

A large majority of Latinos support providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, but most also say that illegal immigrants need to pay fines. Latinos continue to be in broad agreement about many other enforcement measures.

Support for a Path to Citizenship

An estimated 11.1 million unauthorized immigrants—80% of whom are of Hispanic origin—reside in the United States (Passel and Cohn, 2010). Fully 86% of Latinos support providing a path to citizenship for these immigrants if they pass background checks, pay a fine and have jobs, a level of support greater than that among the general public (68%) (Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 2010a).

Support for providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants is strong among all groups of Latinos. Among the native born, more than eight-in-ten (82%) support a path to citizenship; among the foreign born, 90% say the same.

Even though there is strong support among Latinos for providing a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, when presented with a broader set of options, the new survey finds that Latinos are divided over what to do with unauthorized immigrants. Most Latinos (53%) say unauthorized immigrants should pay a fine but not be deported. A small minority (13%) say they should be deported, and a larger minority (28%) say unauthorized immigrants should not be punished.

Some groups of Latinos are more supportive of deportation than others. Three-in-ten (28%) English-dominant Latinos say that unauthorized immigrants should be deported. Nearly one-in-four (23%) Latinos ages 65 or older say the same, as do some 22% of native-born Latinos and Latinos who say they identify with or lean toward the Republican Party.

Support for the option of not punishing unauthorized immigrants is highest among Hispanics who are foreign-born legal residents (36%), have less than a high school education (36%) or are Spanish dominant (34%).

Birthright Citizenship and the Children of Unauthorized Immigrants

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, an estimated 340,000 babies were born in the U.S. in 2008 to unauthorized immigrant parents—8% of all babies born that year (Passel and Taylor, 2010). As guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, all babies born in the U.S., including those born to unauthorized immigrant parents, are automatically granted U.S. citizenship. However, as the debate about immigration reform has intensified in recent years, some prominent elected officials have called for the repeal of birthright citizenship.

The new Pew Hispanic survey asked respondents two questions about birthright citizenship. First, it asked if they knew birthright citizenship is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. Fully 93% of Latinos say they are aware of this. Among the general public, nearly as many (85%) said the same (Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 2010).

The survey followed up with a question asking respondents if they wanted the Constitution changed to repeal birthright citizenship. On this question, nearly eight-in-ten (78%) Latinos say they do not want the Constitution changed, more than the share (56%) of all Americans who say the same (Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 2010a). Fewer than one-in-five (18%) Latinos say the Constitution should be changed, a share that is less than half of the 41% of the American public that says the same.

While majorities of all Latino subgroups favor keeping the Constitution unchanged, some groups are more likely than others to favor changing it. Among the native born, more than one-in-five (22%) say they favor changing the Constitution. Among Latinos who identify with or lean toward the Republican Party, 23% favor changing the Constitution.

Do Unauthorized Immigrants Come to the U.S. to Have Children Here?

When asked about unauthorized immigrants’ motivations for coming to the U.S., three-in-ten (30%) say that one of the reasons is to have a child in this country. Some 64% say they do not believe this is a reason. Among Latinos, views about the motivations of unauthorized immigrants and their reasons for coming to the U.S. vary. Native-born Latinos are nearly 20 percentage points more likely than the foreign born to say unauthorized immigrants come to the U.S. to have a child—41% versus 22%.

Among the foreign born, one-in-four of those who are naturalized citizens (26%) or are legal permanent residents (24%) say unauthorized immigrants come to the U.S. to have a child here. In contrast, just 13% of foreign-born Latinos who are not legal residents or U.S. citizens say the same about unauthorized immigrants’ motivations.

Differences in opinion about motivations are also evident by language usage and political party identification. English-dominant Latinos are twice as likely as the Spanish dominant to say that unauthorized immigrants come to this country to have a child here—40% versus 19%. Among bilingual Latinos, 35% say unauthorized immigrants come to the U.S. to have a child here. More than four-in-ten (42%) Latinos who identify with or lean toward the Republican Party say unauthorized immigrants come to the U.S. to have children here. Fewer than three-in-ten (29%) of Latinos who are Democrats or lean Democratic say the same.

In-State College Tuition Rates and Unauthorized Immigrant Students

Nearly eight-in-ten (78%) Latinos say unauthorized immigrant students who graduate from a high school in their state and are accepted into a state public college should qualify for in-state tuition. Just 17% say they should not qualify.

Support for in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities for unauthorized immigrant students is high among all groups of Latinos. Fully 77% of native-born Hispanics and 78% of the foreign born say these students should qualify for in-state tuition.

Among the foreign born, 83% of those who are U.S. citizens, 77% of those who are legal residents and 71% of those who say they are foreign born but are not U.S. citizens and do not have legal residency support in-state tuition for these students.

Arizona’s SB 1070 and Enforcement of Immigration Law

Arizona’s SB 1070

As noted earlier, Arizona recently passed SB 1070, a law that, in its key provision, authorizes local police to check the immigration status of anyone they reasonably suspect of being in the country illegally. Even though implementation of many key provisions of this law is on hold, similar bills have been introduced in other states (Morse, 2010).

According to the new survey, a vast majority (79%) of Latinos say they disapprove of Arizona’s law, while fewer than one-in-five (17%) approve of it. This view of Arizona’s law differs sharply from that of the general public. According to a June survey of the American public, nearly two-thirds (64%) said they approved of Arizona’s law, while 32% say they disapproved of it (Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 2010a).

While large majorities of all groups of Latinos disapprove of Arizona’s SB 1070, greater shares of some groups approve of Arizona’s law than do others. Nearly four-in-ten (37%) English-dominant Latinos say they approve of the law. Among the native born, nearly three-in-ten (27%) say the same. And among Latinos with some college education or more, 23% say they approve of Arizona’s law.

Who Should Enforce Immigration Law

When it comes to who should enforce the nation’s laws, more than three-quarters (77%) Latinos say that enforcement should be left to the federal authorities, while just 15% say local police should take an active role. This is unchanged from 2007 and 2008. (Pew Hispanic Center, 2007 and Lopez and Minushkin, 2008).

Views on who should enforce immigration laws are correlated with support for Arizona’s SB 1070. Latinos who say they approve of Arizona’s law are nearly five times as likely as Latinos who disapprove of it to say that local police should take an active role in enforcing the nation’s laws—44% versus 9%. Nonetheless, even among Latinos who say they approve of Arizona’s law, a larger share—half (49%)—say enforcement should be left to the federal authorities.

Even though large majorities of all groups of Hispanics say enforcement should be left to the federal authorities, significant shares of some groups say local police should play an active role. The native born are nearly twice as likely as the foreign born to say this—19% versus 11%. Among the English dominant, nearly one-in-four (24%) say that local police should take an active role. Among bilingual Hispanics, 15% say the same. Among the Spanish dominant, just one-in-ten (10%) say this.

Views of Enforcement Actions

The survey asked Hispanics about their views of four policies aimed at combating illegal immigration. Overall, nearly three-in-four Latinos (73%) say they disapprove of workplace raids and more than six-in-ten (61%) say they disapprove of building more fences on the nation’s borders. In contrast, however, Latinos are split on whether the number of border patrol agents should be increased—48% say they approve of this approach, while 46% say they disapprove. And when it comes to a requirement that all U.S. residents carry a national identity card, six-in-ten (58%) Hispanics approve of this proposal while 39% disapprove.

Workplace Raids

Latinos continue to disapprove strongly of this enforcement tactic. Just as in 2007 and 2008, three-in-four (73%) Hispanics say they disapprove of this enforcement measure while about one-in-five (22%) approve.

Majorities of all major groups of Latinos disapprove of workplace raids. However, the foreign born are more likely than the native born to say this. Fully 84% of foreign-born Latinos disapprove of this tactic, compared with six-in-ten (60%) of the native born. Yet even among the foreign born, there are differences. Nearly nine-in-ten (88%) of immigrant Latinos who are legal residents and the same share of immigrant Latinos who are neither U.S. citizens nor legal residents say the same. Among the foreign born who are naturalized U.S. citizens, fewer than eight-in-ten (77%) say they disapprove of workplace raids.

Border Security Measures

When it comes to border security measures, Latinos overall disapprove of building more fences on the nation’s borders—six-in-ten (61%) say this. However, Latinos are split on whether more border patrol agents are needed on the border—48% approve of this measure, while 46% disapprove.

The native born hold a different view of border security measures than do the foreign born. Four-in-ten (40%) native-born Hispanics approve of building more fences on the nation’s borders, while fewer than three-in-ten (28%) of the foreign born say the same. And on increasing the number of border patrol agents, a majority (59%) of native-born Hispanics approve of this measure, compared with just 40% of the foreign born.

Among the foreign born, support for both measures varies with legal status. With regard to building more fences on the nation’s borders, 37% of naturalized citizen Hispanics approve, while just 22% of immigrants who are legal residents and 21% of immigrants who are not U.S. citizens and not legal residents say the same.

When it comes to increasing the number of border patrol agents, nearly half (46%) of naturalized U.S. citizen Hispanics approve of this measure. However, support falls to fewer than four-in-ten (38%) among legal resident Hispanics and to 30% of immigrant Hispanics who not U.S. citizens and not legal residents.

A National Identity Card

When it comes to the proposal that all U.S. residents carry a national identify card, six-in-ten (58%) Latinos say they approve of this approach and 39% say they disapprove. However, in contrast to all the other enforcement measures asked about in the survey, in this case foreign-born Latinos are more likely than native-born Latinos to support this proposal—62% versus 52%. And among the foreign born, support for this proposal is greatest among those who are legal residents (66%), followed by those who are U.S. citizens (62%) and those who are immigrants, but not U.S. citizens or legal residents (59%).